Saturday, February 23, 2008

Naomi Klein, Order 81, and You

For those of you unfamiliar with Naomi Klein, I suggest you give her work a long look as there may be no better journalist, activist, or public figure as effective at spelling out the problems with free market philosophy and globalization. Her first book, "No Logo", deals with issues surrounding corporate branding, sweatshops, and activism in favor of combatting the negative effects of both. Klein's second book, "Fences and Windows", is a collections of articles and essays dealing with the anti-globalization movement. Her most recent work, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism", is a disturbing look at the methods that profiteers have employed over the years to enact favorable legislation and programs to big business during points of historical crisis and upheaval.

The basic premise of "The Shock Doctine" is that people like Milton Friedman have aided governments in pushing through unpopular economic and civil reforms in the wake of disasters, as the general population reels from a kind of collective shock. We might understand this in terms of the Patriot Act and 9/11, or the sell off of coastal property in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This video was produced as a complimentary piece to the book, part promotion and part stand alone impact item.

One of the most striking examples of The Shock Doctrine is the set of Executive Orders penned by a combination of Bush Administration representatives and corporate lobbyists to slice up profitable portions of Iraq among the mostly American interests. The Coalition Provisional Authority, under the direction of abject failure L. Paul Bremer, provided immunity for all US contractors in Iraq from prosecution in Iraqi courts. It provides for as much as 80% of the Iraqi oil fields to be sold to foreign corporations, and hands over the entire Iraqi agricultural industry to Agribusiness giants like Monsanto.

Iraq has long been known as the heart of the “fertile crescent” of civilization. The intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers provided early civilizations a perfect ecology for the development of agriculture. Iraqi farmers have honed their craft over the millennia providing humanity with the greatest variety of wheat strains possible. Order 81, also known as the ‘Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law’, essentially prohibits Iraqi farmers from using the techniques and resources available to them since the dawn of human civilization in favor of supporting agribusiness ventures favored by the current corporate government coalition. The Plant Variety Protection (PVP) provision states, “Farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties or any variety mentioned in items 1 and 2 of paragraph (C) of Article 14 of this Chapter.”

Writing for Current Concerns, Engdahl notes, “The protected plant varieties are Genetically Modified or Gene Manipulated (GM) plants, and an Iraqi farmer who chose to plant such seeds must sign an agreement with the seed company holding the patent that he would pay a ‘technology fee’ and an annual license fee for planting the patented seeds. Any Iraqi farmer seeking to take a portion of those patented seeds to replant in following harvest years would be subject to heavy fines from the seed supplier. Iraqi farmers would become vassals, not of Saddam Hussein, but of multinational GM seed giants.”

This is significant, as the wheat cultivated over the centuries by Iraqi farmers cannot be considered new in any sense, and therefore is disqualified from use in the new Iraqi agricultural ecology. The purpose of this provision is to hand the agribusiness giants proprietary control over the food supply produced in Iraq in the guise of increased efficiency. Somehow the media failed to take note of this important story, and certainly never raised the question of who penned the order in the first place. Engdahl takes a crack at it when he writes, “According to informed Washington reports, the specific details of Order 81 on plants were written for the US Government by Monsanto Corporation, the world’s leading purveyor of GMO seeds and crops.”

Whether or not this proves to be true, there is another concern regarding the restricted seed varieties used in Iraq. They are being used to grow wheat for pasta manufacturing, a food foreign to Iraqi people in every way. Jeremy Smith writes in The Ecologist, “There can be only two reasons why 50 percent of the grains being developed by Iraq by the US are for pasta. One, the US intends to have so many American soldiers and businessmen in Iraq that it is orienting the country’s agriculture around feeding not ‘Starving Iraqis’ but ‘Overfed Americans’. Or, and more likely, because the food was never meant to be eaten inside Iraq at all."

Disturbing, no? That's what Naomi Klein is talking about. That's the way it works in a nutshell. The privatization of Iraq's economy could be assured, and assured for the United States and its interests, in a time of profound chaos. It's imperative that we are all awake enough to ask ourselves important questions on a daily basis, but we also must keep our collective faculties enough during times of chaos and hardship in order to be the vanguards of our own civil liberties.


Nancy Scola said...

Fascinating post. Though I'm reluctant to push my own work, I thought you might have some interest in a piece I wrote for AlterNet connecting Order 81 and the troubles that have been facing farmers in India's cotton belt since the embrace of patented, GM-powered farming there.

When Order 81 first became news, public read of it seemed to be that this was a mandate ordering Iraqi farmers to make a switch to controlled seeds. What I attempted to show in this article is that what really happened is that Bremer et al were simply set in place the economic building blocks that would let companies like Monsanto and Dow and Dupont that they were being warmly invited into Iraq.

Anyway, hope you might find it somewhat useful.

Mike Plugh said...

Thanks Nancy. I'll give it a read. Glad to have your comment!

workshop said...

The part that strikes me isn't the part about plant varieties - that part of the order seems to depend on HOW IT IS IMPLEMENTED. If farmers are effectively forced to switch, as I'm sure they will be, Order 81 looks to be a typically fascist maneuver.

What strikes me more is this passage:

"11) Article 12 is amended to read as follows: “A patent shall grant its owner the following rights: a) Where the subject of the patent is a product, the right to prevent any person who has not obtained the owner's authorization from making, exploiting, using, offering for sale, selling or importing that product. b) Where the subject of the patent is an industrial process, the rights to prevent any person who has not obtained the owner's authorization from using the process or the product directly made by the process, offering for sale, selling or importing the product.” "

Which seems to outlaw secondary markets!!! If it's logic were followed in the US you could NEVER resell ANY product not of your own design!!!

workshop said...

Nancy Scola, thanks for your article. Here's the part I see as the key part:

"Here is where Order 81 starts to look a lot like the forced and mandatory GM-driven agricultural system that cynics tagged it as when it was first announced. Read the letter of the law, and the impact of Order 81 seems limited to using public policy to construct an architecture that's simply favorable to a company like Monsanto. The directive promotes a corporate agribusiness model a lot like the one we have in the United States today, but it doesn't really and truly put Monsanto in the driver's seat of that system.

Actually handing the keys to Monsanto is instead biology's job.

Biology -- how so? That's a good question for Percy Schmeiser, the Saskatchewan farmer featured in the film The Future of Food, who found himself tangled with Monsanto in a heated lawsuit over the presence of Roundup® Ready canola plants on the margins of his fields.

The Canadian farmer argued that he had purchased no Monsanto canola seeds, had never planted Monsanto seeds, and was frankly horrified to find that the genetically modified crops had taken hold in his acreage. Perhaps, suggested Schmeiser, the plants in question were the product of a few rogue GM seeds blown from a truck passing by his land?

Monsanto was uninterested in Schmeiser's theory on how the Roundup® Ready plants got there. As far as the company was concerned, Schmeiser was in possession of an agricultural product whose intellectual property belonged to Monsanto. And it didn't matter much how that came to pass.

Monsanto's interpretation of the impact of seed contamination is, of course, a good one if its goal is to eventually own the rights to the world's seed supply. And that goal may well be in sight. In fact, a 2004 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that much of the U.S. seed pool is already contaminated by GM seeds. If that contamination continues unabated, eventually much of the world's seeds could labor under patents controlled by one agribusiness or another."

Aron said...

Could someone then sue Monsanto if the GMO infected their crops? Isn't that property damage? If you were a grower who had perfected a strain of cotton for your particular region or climate couldn't you then sue Monsanto for damaging your crops? Is this really a one way street?

P. Clark said...

I just watched the trailer of the Shock Doctrine... you know I'm going to have a nightmare after watching that…I don't like that Plugh...Why not go back to blogging baseball huh?

Really though, super cool post.
Interesting example you wrote about for explaining how this shock doctrine nightmare sequence works.
...So, the Iraq court system, ha, granted full immunity for foreign contractors to own, build and distribute; giving 80% of oil fields to the UNITED states and giving companies from the United states, like Monsanto, the right to rape the Iraqi culture by forcibly changing their traditional agricultural practices in the name of science? haha

Genetically Modified One World Government, planting and privatizing seeds all over.
So interesting though, this whole argument of genetically modified seeds, I wish I heard more of in the mainstream.

Shit Plugh, after reading this I feel like I have increased my chances for experiencing shock wave treatment by hooded men of some sort. But you are a brave man in this wild world of loosey goosey laws.